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The overlooked MGM contract players


TopBilled
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I want to use this opportunity to talk about three "stars" in particular that have caught my attention. 

 

FIRST ONE. I watched THE TALL TARGET yesterday during Dick Powell's Summer Under the Stars tribute. And listed right under the title in a moderately sized font is the name Marshall Thompson.  During his original 7-year contract with MGM from 1944 to 1951, he made 20 MGM pictures and was loaned out only once. His last MGM film during this cycle was THE TALL TARGET. He would turn to television and freelance throughout the 50s, but in the mid-60s he was back at MGM with CLARENCE, THE CROSS-EYED LION. The studio turned it into the hit television series Daktari in which he also starred.  

 

SECOND ONE. Richard Anderson. Still living as I write this, with 187 screen credits according to the IMDB. Richard Anderson often played supporting roles at MGM in the 50s and was assigned second leads in modestly budgeted programmers. The studio never developed projects where he was the leading man. But yet he was very useful to the company and remained on contract at MGM throughout the decade, appearing in 26 MGM films during that period. Later, he would achieve greater fame at Universal in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.

 

THIRD ONE. Connie Gilchrist. From 1940 to 1950, she was featured in 40 MGM motion pictures. In some of those films, she barely has five minutes worth of screen time. But she always comes in to the story and creates memorable characterizations, even if the role is under-developed. Gilchrist came back to MGM twice in the later part of her film career but she was quite busy appearing in 36 more motion pictures at other studios throughout the 50s and 60s, not to mention her extensive television work.

 

Which MGM contract players are the most overlooked in your opinion...?

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First of all, TopBilled, I loved your choices for discussion.  Both Marshall Thompson and Richard Anderson should have become major stars.  They both had movie-star looks and talent.  I don't know what happened.  Another that comes to mind is Sally Forrest.  A beautiful young woman and terrific dancer, I think she came along at the wrong time.  In the early 1950's, musicals were on their way out and she never got a chance to really display her talent.  The only musical number that centered around her that I can recall is from a Red Skelton comedy called "Excuse My Dust."  She did appear in an occasional drama later on, but never really became a major star.

 

Terrence.

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I never found Marshall Thompson very interesting.

 

Richard Anderson never became a leading man, but he did manage one moment of immortality (as the prosecutor in Paths Of Glory) and worked steadily as a TV heavy through the '60s. Just a few days ago I watched a Daniel Boone he did. He's a villain, but not the worst villain and successfully creates empathy for his character (a Continental Army soldier turned payroll robber). In the '70s playing the government man on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman would finally make him a household face, if not name.

 

I regret to say I wouldn't recognize Connie Gilchrist if she walked through the door right now.

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First of all, TopBilled, I loved your choices for discussion.  Both Marshall Thompson and Richard Anderson should have become major stars.  They both had movie-star looks and talent.  I don't know what happened.  Another that comes to mind is Sally Forrest.  A beautiful young woman and terrific dancer, I think she came along at the wrong time.  In the early 1950's, musicals were on their way out and she never got a chance to really display her talent.  The only musical number that centered around her that I can recall is from a Red Skelton comedy called "Excuse My Dust."  She did appear in an occasional drama later on, but never really became a major star.

 

Terrence.

Thanks Terrence. The point of this thread is to acknowledge the people at MGM who will probably never get a SUTS day or even a primetime spotlight though many of their films are in the Turner Library.

 

Marshall Thompson starred in the studio's Technicolor equestrian feature GALLANT BESS in '46. I guess Mickey Rooney had outgrown those roles and so Thompson gets the chance to shine for a change.

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I never found Marshall Thompson very interesting.

 

Richard Anderson never became a leading man, but he did manage one moment of immortality (as the prosecutor in Paths Of Glory) and worked steadily as a TV heavy through the '60s. Just a few days ago I watched a Daniel Boone he did. He's a villain, but not the worst villain and successfully creates empathy for his character (a Continental Army soldier turned payroll robber). In the '70s playing the government man on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman would finally make him a household face, if not name.

 

I regret to say I wouldn't recognize Connie Gilchrist if she walked through the door right now.

Gilchrist has a very distinct east coast accent and the minute you see her face you will know her:

images-17.jpg

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I've never cared for Mame in any of her permutations.

 

Indeed, I would actually put the blame on Mame.

Well then you should know her from her appearance on "The Fugitive" in 1964. She only appeared once, but with a name like yours, I would assume an encyclopedic knowledge of the series!  :)

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Well then you should know her from her appearance on "The Fugitive" in 1964. She only appeared once, but with a name like yours, I would assume an encyclopedic knowledge of the series! 

And she's very good in that episode (as a motel clerk I believe). I thought of that appearance when I referenced her television work earlier in the thread. She always gives sharp performances in thankless roles.

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Another small role that she made more interesting was in "Some Came Running."  She played the mother of Nancy Gates, and she was touching in her few lines.  Of course, that is just one of the many roles she played.  I believe she also was Linda Darnell's mother in "Letter to Three Wives" as well as the housemother in "Good News."

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Another small role that she made more interesting was in "Some Came Running."  She played the mother of Nancy Gates, and she was touching in her few lines.  Of course, that is just one of the many roles she played.  I believe she also was Linda Darnell's mother in "Letter to Three Wives" as well as the housemother in "Good News."

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Another woman in the Connie Gilchrist mode(often feisty and in-your-face) and who had many a small role in studio era films(some I believe with MGM) and who also would go on to make a good career in television would be...

 

Kathleen-Freeman-as-Katie-300x224.jpg

 

Kathleen Freeman.

 

(...I was reminded of her yet again last night while watching "The Bad and The Beautiful", and in which she had a small role)

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First of all, TopBilled, I loved your choices for discussion.  Both Marshall Thompson and Richard Anderson should have become major stars.  They both had movie-star looks and talent.  I don't know what happened.  Another that comes to mind is Sally Forrest.  A beautiful young woman and terrific dancer, I think she came along at the wrong time.  In the early 1950's, musicals were on their way out and she never got a chance to really display her talent.  The only musical number that centered around her that I can recall is from a Red Skelton comedy called "Excuse My Dust."  She did appear in an occasional drama later on, but never really became a major star.

 

Terrence.

 

To me the primary reasons most actors that fall into the 'should have become major stars,,,, why didn't that happen' category are;

 

Studios already had major stars under contract.  The studio was paying these stars regardless of the number of films they made.  So studios were motivated to put stars in leading roles even if they were not 'right' for the role (I believe that this was a primary reason for miscasting actors as well).

 

Another reason is that studios can only release so many movies a year.   Now during the 30s studios released a lot more movies then they did in later decades (especially starting in the 50s when TV started to take away market share).    Therefore during the 30s it was more common for a second tier actor to become a star.  e.g. feature him in a 'B' movie and if that movies does well take a chance and cast him in an 'A' picture.

 

But once some studios started cutting back due to budget issues,  they could no longer afford to promote second level actors.  Even some big stars were not resigned after their 7 year contact expired due to budget issues.

 

Related to T.V.  those actors that weren't getting enough work in movies (not due to their level of talent but to reasons like the above),   ended up doing T.V.    So at least these actors got to work in their craft for T.V. (instead of their local hometown theater!).

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To make a coherent choice of the best MGM character actors, it'd help to see a list of them.

 

This is the best photo-included list of character actors I've ever seen, but unfortunately it's not broken down by studio, and doubly unfortunate, at this point it only includes the male actors.

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To make a coherent choice of the best MGM character actors, it'd help to see a list of them.

 

This is the best photo-included list of character actors I've ever seen, but unfortunately it's not broken down by studio, and doubly unfortunate, at this point it only includes the male actors.

But keep in mind we are not necessarily discussing character actors here. Marshall Thompson was sometimes marketed to movie-going audiences as a juvenile lead at MGM in the 40s. He wasn't exactly a character actor at that time though he may have developed into one later. 

 

Claude Jarman Jr. is another MGM contract player that was used in juvenile parts but never became a major A-list star.

 

Also, there are performers like Lauritz Melchoir brought in to add prestige and operatic singing talent in several MGM musicals. He was never used as a scene stealing character actor-- he was seen strictly in supporting roles.

 

And we're not yet even discussing other acts that made on-going appearances in studio films, like Xavier Cugat and his orchestra...or even animal performers like Asta and Lassie.

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I've often wondered what happened to Phillips Holmes. He was a Paramount star who signed on to MGM in the early 1930's. He had some good movies at Paramount including "An American Tragedy", "Devil's Holiday" and "Broken Lullaby". He was a handsome guy who was a forerunner of Montgomery Clift; troubled, brooding and sensitive.

MGM put him in "Dinner At Eight" but he had only two or three lines and less than 5 minutes airtime

in a 100 minute movie. In "Stage Mother" he also had about 5 minutes total of air time. After a few more

roles with limited airtime he was dropped.

Did MGM not know what to do with him? Was he troublesome? I would have thought he had great potential.

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I've often wondered what happened to Phillips Holmes. He was a Paramount star who signed on to MGM in the early 1930's. He had some good movies at Paramount including "An American Tragedy", "Devil's Holiday" and "Broken Lullaby". He was a handsome guy who was a forerunner of Montgomery Clift; troubled, brooding and sensitive.

MGM put him in "Dinner At Eight" but he had only two or three lines and less than 5 minutes airtime

in a 100 minute movie. In "Stage Mother" he also had about 5 minutes total of air time. After a few more

roles with limited airtime he was dropped.

Did MGM not know what to do with him? Was he troublesome? I would have thought he had great potential.

 

 

Killed in a military plane crash in 1942.

 

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0392004/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

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anderson also made a terrific impression as lt. steve drum (when he replaced lt. tragg (ray collins)) in 'perry mason'.

 

In the '70s playing the government man on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman would finally make him a household face, if not name.

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Auturo: While I thank you for 'liking' my post, you were a major influence. In fact I was even going to use your gal Linda Darnell as an example! So by liking my post you are liking your own input. ;)

James, thanks for the recognition. I kinda feel now like if I had "liked" my own post. Btw, I had been planning to comment earlier on the thread on who should be SOTM, but got busy at work. Will try to do so now.

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